J.C. Ryle on Fighting the Good Fight of Faith

J.C. Ryle“Let us take care that our own personal religion is real, genuine and true. The saddest symptom about so many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare – its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests – of all this they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own. The worst state of the soul is when the strong man armed keepeth the house, and his goods are at peace, when he leads men and women captive at his will, and they make no resistance. The worst chains are those which are neither felt nor seen by the prisoner.”
J.C. Ryle, Holiness, p. 55

Ephesus: Losing Your First Love (Study Notes)

This Sunday I will be preaching from Revelation 2:1-7, so I am posting notes for those who may want to use them in preparation for this Sunday’s sermon.

Study Notes: Ephesus: Losing Your First Love (Rev. 2:1-7)


Revelation 2:1-7 (ESV)

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.

“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.


These seven letters are preceded by John’s vision of the exalted and glorified risen savior who walks among his churches (1:9-20). They are followed by the powerful images of God’s mercy, judgment and ultimate victory in chpts. 4-22. These letters help us to understand the place of the church against the sweeping panorama of human history.

The book was delivered as a whole and was meant to be read aloud in each of the churches (1:3). Therefore, each of the churches would have also heard what Christ had to say about the other six churches and called to heed the message.

Each of these letters follow a similar pattern with a few exceptions:

  • Each letter is addressed to the angel of the particular church. It is possible that the angels are actual heavenly beings but it is more likely that it refers in some way to the leaders of the various churches. Whichever is correct, it is clear that the “angel” is representative of the entire congregation. The fact that Christ holds them in his hand denotes security and control.
  • Jesus then describes some aspect of himself that had been revealed in John’s vision in 1:9-20.
  • Jesus tells the church that he knows them and describes what he knows about them.
  • In most of the churches, with the exception of Smyrna and Philadelphia, he mentions something that he has against them.
  • He then calls the church to repentance.
  • He lists the consequences of they fail to repent.
  • They are then called to hear what the Spirit says to the churches and given a promise to those who overcome or conquer.


  • Description of Jesus and the recipient (1) – In each of these letters Jesus uses some aspect of John’s description of the risen and glorified Jesus found in 1:9-20. In this case it is the one who holds the seven stars (angels of the seven churches, 1:20) and walks among the lampstands (the seven churches, 1:20)
  • What Jesus knows about the church at Ephesus (2-3, 6) – He knows 9 commendable things about this church. He knows 1) their works, 2) their toil, 3) their patient endurance, 4) that they cannot bear with those who are evil, 5) that they had tested false apostles, 6) they were enduring patiently, 7) they were bearing up for his name’s sake, 8) they had not grown weary, and 9) they hated the work of the Nicolaitans (v.6).
  • What Jesus has against this church (4) – That they had abandoned the love that they had at first.
  • What this church was to do in response (5a) – There response was to be three-fold. They were to “remember” from where they had fallen; “repent”; and “do” the deeds they had done at first .
  • The consequences of failure (5b) – Jesus would come to them and remove their lampstand.
  • What this church needed to hear (7) – the one who conquers will be granted to eat of the tree of life in the paradise of God.

Theme / Main Idea: 

Theme(s): Importance of the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:36-38), Repentance, Doctrine, Holiness, self-evaluation

Main idea: Jesus demands our affection not just our obedience and adherence to sound doctrine. Our love for Christ is so important that its absence can kill a church.

Aim / Complementary Ideas: 


  • To show that Christ is in control of his churches and that what he values and expects from us is sometimes at odds with what we value and expect. We must align our values and expectations with his if we want to be a faithful church.

Complementary ideas

  • Christ’s control of his churches – Since he is the one who walks among the lampstands (v. 1), he will take away their lampstand if they do not repent (v. 5).
  • The importance of periodic self-evaluation – this church was called to remember from where they had fallen. It is important for churches to stop and periodically reexamine what is really important to that congregation.
  • Repentance- there is only one response when we fail our Lord.
  • Discernment – This church evaluated the messaged of those who claimed that they had been sent to speak for God and rejected them as false apostles.
  • Sound Doctrine – This was a church that rejected false and heretical teaching, which Jesus also hated.
  • The importance of keeping love for Christ central in a church – out of everything this church did right one problem threatened their very existence.

Gospel Focus: 

Love for Christ is the heart of the Gospel. Since God has demonstrated the magnitude of his love for us by sending his Son to die for us while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8), we are called to let our love for him be the driving force behind all that we do. There are echoes of 1 Corinthians 13 in this text. There was so much that was commendable about this church but the fact that they had lost their first love threatened to undo it all.



Check This Out! 5/6/14





“Some people get so caught up in their own holiness that they look at the Trinity for a possible vacancy.” – John MacArthur

So you want to be a pastor?

Today I posted a link to an article by Dave Bruskas over at Resurgence entitled “10 Bad Reasons to be a Pastor.” It is a good article for anyone who may be considering pastoral ministry and I think that each of his reasons are worth consideration.

Reason number 6 in the article was, “you want to spend fewer hours working.”  Here is what Bruskas has to say about this,

Pastoral ministry isn’t so much a job as it is a lifestyle. The pastor is on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year. This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t have some set hours, a day off, or vacation. It just means you’re likely to be interrupted by emergencies on a regular basis. The hours are long. The work may not be physical, but it is emotional and spiritual, and it is all-encompassing and exhausting.

I thought that I would weigh in with my personal experience in this matter.  There are lots of articles today describing the difficulties of pastoral ministry and what pastors wish their church members knew about the hardships of their vocation.  Some of these articles are very helpful and some of them amount to pastoral whining.  Ministry is hard work but so are the jobs that everyone in your congregation has.  Vocational ministry has difficulties that are unique but so do other jobs.  When I am tempted to have a pity party I try to remind myself about the hardships of the bankers, farmers, construction workers and health care professionals in my church.  They work hard and have frustrations too, so it helps me to get over mine.

Here is a little background that will help you understand my remarks in this article.  I grew up on a farm and know a few things about long hours, unpleasant tasks and physical labor.  After high school I joined the world’s finest fighting force, otherwise known as the United States Marine Corps, and spent the next six years experiencing long hours, intense physical activity and long deployments away from home and family.  After the Marine Corps I held several jobs ranging from 12 hour shift work in a manufacturing plant, to construction work with an industrial maintenance firm, to a cable technician doing everything from crawling under houses while installing cable to line work in a bucket truck.

It was during this time that God called me into ministry where I worked 40 plus hours a week in a physically demanding job as well as bivocationally pastoring a rural congregation.  During this same period of time I also saw the need to further my theological education and began taking a full-time load of classes at night.  I’ll just briefly mention the untold hours in college and seminary spent studying, researching and writing papers.

Now I am the full-time pastor of a medium-sized Southern Baptist church and I believe it would be fair to say that I spend 50 to 55 hours a week directly involved in church related activities on average.  Keeping time in the ministry is somewhat difficult because as the author notes, you are really on call 24/7/365.  I receive calls in the wee hours of the morning when one of my members or their families has had an emergency.  I get calls on days off from church members whose world has just come crashing down around them.  My family has had vacations and trips cut short by unexpected accidents and deaths.  I have had to miss some family events because of church related needs.  I can’t tell you the number of times my wife and I have discussed whether or not we should go away on some trip because brother or sister Smith is in the hospital and the prognosis doesn’t look good.

Contrary to what some believe, sermons do not magically appear on Saturday night.  Sermon preparation should take you several hours per week. If you are one of the dying breed who preaches two or more sermons per week as I do then you can  increase those hours accordingly.  Factor in the meetings you will need to attend and the visits you will need to make and you can fill up a week pretty quickly.  I won’t even get into the evenings that you will spend counseling or the Saturdays that you will spend in church activities.

I suppose I could keep writing but I think I’ve shared enough to make it clear that if you want to spend fewer hours working the ministry ain’t for you.  Are there some lazy pastors out there who don’t use their time wisely? Probably, but they are a minority in my experience. Being a pastor is far from the most physically demanding job that I’ve ever had but it is definitely the most challenging. The hours are long, and as the article states, “The work may not be physical, but it is emotional and spiritual, and it is all-encompassing and exhausting.”  Stay away from the ministry if you think it is easy.

It’s difficult but gloriously rewarding so let me end my ramblings this way.  If you believe God has called you into the ministry, don’t let the long hours and difficulties scare you away.  If you feel called, let me borrow a phrase from one of those other armed forces, it will be “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”

Yes, it’s hard but I can’t imagine doing anything else.  You will be with people on the worst days of their lives and you will hurt for them and weep for them, but you will also be with people on the best days of their lives and get to share in the most wonderful experiences you can imagine.  You will have the inestimable privilege of preaching God’s Word to his people and seeing lives changed in the process.  There is nothing greater than being trusted with care and oversight of the one thing Christ loved enough to give his life for, His church.  If God has called you, he will give you the grace and strength to bear up under difficulties that come your way, but if you are an aspiring preacher, go into it with your eyes open.

Check This Out!

Here is a good word from Erik Raymond about the importance of the OT. “Those Little Pocket NT’s Are Not Helping Things.”

I’m really glad someone did this.  Dave Bruskas gives “10 Bad Reasons to be a Pastor.”  If you are considering the ministry please read this!

Sam Storms writes part one of a post to help us break out of a spiritual rut and overcome spiritual stagnation.

Just in case you’ve ever wondered, Michael Hyatt shares with us, “How Millionaires Manage Their Time.”

If you are in a leadership position you may want to read Ron Edmondson’s “7 Ways the Leader sets the Bar.” 

Another great lesson on leadership from Thom Rainer who shares, “Five Life Leadership lessons Where I Stilll Mess Up.” 

Laude Dignus (Joel Beeke edition)

The following are some highlights from Joel Beeke’s excellent little book, “Getting Back in the Race: The Cure for Backsliding.”

“Backsliding can progress so far that even the world will begin noticing your worldliness, perhaps with expressions of approval that you are not so “overly religious” anymore. Sometimes, even worldly people can be surprised at what a backsliding child of God will now do or allow.”

“If you want to find peace in the doctrine of election, you must repent and pursue holiness, and show yourself elect. As long as you rest in sin, you are on a trajectory towards hell.”

“While grace absolves the guilt of sin, it does not cheapen sin. Rather, grace aggravates the pain of sin, as it must, for it teaches us that the party we have offended is God—the very God whom we love in Christ.”

“Much backsliding could be avoided or remedied simply by faithful participation in a faithful church.”

“Through the graces poured by the Spirit on backsliding believers, they are effectually brought back to God again, and nothing short of this will restore their backsliding souls.”

“Dear backsliding believer, seek the Spirit’s saving graces earnestly and believingly. Seek grace to set out afresh, for God and divine favor, as if you had never walked this path before. Let this be your prayer at the footstool of mercy: “Oh, Lord, revive thy work! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation! Fulfill thy own Word that ‘He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth’ (Psalm 72:6).”

Check This Out!


“Good conduct arises out of good doctrine.”
John Stott

Study Notes for Daniel 7 “The Ancient of Days”

6a00d8341bffb053ef00e550438f818834-500wiThe Text:

Daniel 7:1-28 (ESV)

In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon, Daniel saw a dream and visions of his head as he lay in his bed. Then he wrote down the dream and told the sum of the matter. Daniel declared, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the great sea. And four great beasts came up out of the sea, different from one another. The first was like a lion and had eagles ‘wings. Then as I looked its wings were plucked off, and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a man, and the mind of a man was given to it. And behold, another beast, a second one, like a bear. It was raised up on one side. It had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth; and it was told, ‘Arise, devour much flesh. ’ After this I looked, and behold, another, like a leopard, with four wings of a bird on its back. And the beast had four heads, and dominion was given to it. After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, terrifying and dreadful and exceedingly strong. It had great iron teeth; it devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I considered the horns, and behold, there came up among them another horn, a little one, before which three of the first horns were plucked up by the roots. And behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking great things.

“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.

“I looked then because of the sound of the great words that the horn was speaking. And as I looked, the beast was killed, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.

“I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

“As for me, Daniel, my spirit within me was anxious, and the visions of my head alarmed me. I approached one of those who stood there and asked him the truth concerning all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of the things.

“Then I desired to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the rest, exceedingly terrifying, with its teeth of iron and claws of bronze, and which devoured and broke in pieces and stamped what was left with its feet, and about the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn that came up and before which three of them fell, the horn that had eyes and a mouth that spoke great things, and that seemed greater than its companions. As I looked, this horn made war with the saints and prevailed over them, until the Ancient of Days came, and judgment was given for the saints of the Most High, and the time came when the saints possessed the kingdom.

“Thus he said:‘As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms, and it shall devour the whole earth, and trample it down, and break it to pieces.

As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings. He shall speak words against the Most High, and shall wear out the saints of the Most High, and shall think to change the times and the law; and they shall be given into his hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end. And the kingdom and the dominion and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High; his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. ’

“Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart


Verse 1 – Prologue

  • It is important to note that the events in chapter 7 occur before the events in chapters 5-6.  Chapter 7 concludes the Aramaic portion of Daniel and links it to the historical section of the book (chpts. 1-6). I believe that Daniel 7 serves as a bridge between the historical and prophetic sections of this great book.
  • In this chapter, it is Daniel who has the dream and needs it interpreted, whereas, he has been interpreting the dreams of others up to this point.  There will be some similarities between this dream and the dream of Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2. In chapter 2 Daniel’s interpretation explains how history will affect Nebuchadnezzar, and in chapter 7 Daniel is shown how history will directly affect God’s people.

Verses 2-14 – The Vision

  • The four beasts from the sea (2-8)
  • The Ancient of Days (9-10)
  • The judgment against the beasts (11-12)
  • The Son of Man (13-14)

Verses 15-27 – The Interpretation (alternates between Daniel’s reaction and the divine interpretation)

  • Daniel’s reaction (15-16, 19-22)
  • The Interpretation (17-18, 25-27)

Verse 28 – Daniel’s closing remarks

  • Note some of the similarities between Daniel’s reaction and Belshazzar’s reaction to the writing on the wall in 5:5-6, 9.

Theme/Main Idea

Theme: God’s control over history and care for His people.

Main Idea: There is an age-old conflict between two kingdoms, the Kingdom of God and the kingdoms of men.  While we live in this age we can be comforted in knowing that God is in control as empires rise and fall and has established an eternal kingdom that he will give to his people through the Son of Man, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Aim of the sermon

One of the things that makes preaching the prophetic chapters of Daniel so difficult is the use of apocalyptic imagery.  It would be really easy to get bogged down in minutiae and miss the entire point of the passage.  Verses 17 and 18 are a great summary of what we are meant to really take away from Daniel 7, “These four great beasts are four kings who shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever, forever and ever.”

Kings and kingdoms will rise and fall under the sovereign control of God but God’s kingdom, established by the son of man will become the inheritance of the saints forever.

The aim of this sermon is twofold.  First, to comfort and encourage believers as we experience significant geo-political upheaval in our world, and second, to point unbelievers to the Son of Man who gives such a magnificent inheritance to his people.

Gospel Focus

Jesus is the Son of Man who has been given dominion and authority.  Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Daniel and so those who belong to Jesus can be confident that they will one day reign with him forever.

Preaching/Application Points

  • The rise and fall of earthly kingdoms – this has been a continual theme of the book of Daniel.  It is God who gives them power and God who takes away their power.
  • The nature of human evil – the fourth beast represents a kingdom that destroys everything in its path.  Many Christians around the world today experience crushing and devouring persecution at the hands of destructive regimes.  These brothers and sisters understand the beast-like imagery of Daniel better than we in the west.  But as we see the erosion of Christian values, the rejection of the Christian message and increasing hostility to the kingdom of God, our own experience with this beastly kingdom may not be far off.  Should that occur, Daniel’s message still holds true…the saints will one-day reign.
  • The majesty of God – Daniel 7:9-10 is one of the most vivid portraits of God found in the Bible.  Sam Storms notes, “In contrast with the chaotic waters of the great sea and its bestial inhabitants there appears in the calm of heaven He in whom all authority and power reside.”
  • The Son of Man – he is given dominion and authority. In Mt. 28:18 Jesus tells his disciples “All authority on heaven and on earth have been given to me.”  Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man around 81 times in the gospels.
  • The already/not yet aspects of God’s kingdom – this kingdom was inaugurated at Christ’s first coming but is awaiting its consummation at his second coming.  We now live in the interim and find ourselves subject to the wrath of the world’s kingdoms that oppose God.  But we can be certain that the Son of Man is coming with authority to judge and will reign with his people forevermore.
  • Cosmic conflict or spiritual warfare – As we observe geo-political upheaval we need to be reminded that behind it all is a spiritual warfare that will rage until the final day. It is God who raises up and sets low and is accomplishing his plan throughout history.  (See Eph. 6:12)
  • The inevitability of victory – the cross is our guarantee that the victory is ours (Colossians 2:14-15)

Check This Out!

A reminder for us pastors…it’s not just what we say but how we say it.  Read Erik Raymond’s “Truth and Tone Go Hand-In-Hand.” 

Greg Atkinson reflects on what he has learned in 20 years of ministry.  Read it here. 

In the same vein as the above post, Sinclair Ferguson shares his “Best Lessons from a Lifetime of Pastoring.”

Since we’re sharing videos, you will definitely want to check out this overview of both the OT and NT at Between Two Worlds.  This would be well worth 20 minutes of your time (10 minutes each for both Old and New Testaments).

Think that small-groups are a recent trend? Chris Castaldo gives us a glimpse of “Small Groups From 16th Century Europe.”

I may no longer depend on pleasant impulses to bring me before the Lord. I must rather respond to principles I know to be right, whether I feel them to be enjoyable or not.

Jim Elliot

Check This Out! 2/10/14